Continuing after an interruption my translation of the third book of Psalms, that is, Psalms 73-89
To the choir leader. A psalm of the Korahites
You showed your delight, Yahweh, in your land:
You restored the prosperity of Jacob’s people;
You forgave the sins of your folk;
You covered all their crimes;
You took back all your fury
And turned away from your fiery anger.
Return us to your favour, rescuing God;
Lay aside your irritation with us!
Will you be angry with us for all time?
Will you continue your rage for generations?
Why not give us life once again
So that your people can be glad with you?
Let us see your lovingkindness, Yahweh
And let us have your help.
Now I will publish what Yahweh God will say,
For he will speak peace to his people,
His faithful ones who will not return to folly.
Surely his help is at hand for those who fear him,
that his splendour may live on our earth.
Lovingkindness and Loyalty have come together;
Justice and Peace have kissed each other;
Loyalty grows up from the ground
And Justice bends down from above.
Yes, Yahweh will give what is good
And our land will yield its growth.
Justice will go before him
And he will fit his steps to its way.
Justice and Peace kissing. William Blake
This grand psalm has an ambiguity in the first section: it’s not clear whether the verbs are to be understood as past or present. I have decided on the past, imagining the psalmist composing soon after the return of exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem, when things were difficult. A faithful person can say that God has been good to his people, but nevertheless pray for a more complete restoration.
The psalmist, as we shall see, is convinced of the love of God, but he/ she is also sure of God’s anger. This makes sense. It is impossible to imagine love without anger. The strangely passionless God of some modern liberal theologies is on the way to being no God at all. Of course we may disagree with the Hebrew Bible as to how God expresses anger – we may want to insist that God never damages anyone- while keeping anger as part of our image of God.
It’s become standard in modern versions to translate the Hebrew “chesed” as “steadfast love” or something similar. I still like the KJV “lovingkindness” which I have used here, partly in the hope that it won’t vanish from contemporary speech.
The psalmist’s plea for restoration is in this case given an immediate answer, introduced by the psalmist, “Listen up, this is God.” In fact what he gives us is a rapid summary of the main characteristics of God’s good news, which reassures his people of his good intentions towards them. There is no room for doubt: his help is at hand for those who fear him.
Then however the psalmist turns prophet and provides a scenario of God’s future for his people which beautifully pictures the personified elements of God’s character in action. There are some options for the translator: I have already mentioned the word “chesed” which again I translate as lovingkindness, while the word ‘”emeth” can be rendered as truth, faithfulness or loyalty. I have chosen the last because it provides a partner to God’s love. In the next pairing, “tsedeq” is often rendered “righteousness” which I think is wrong, and I have translated it as “justice” which is less wrong. The other partner is “shalom” which can mean anything from hello to welfare, but I have been traditional and translated it as peace. These qualities are part of God but do not exclude human beings. In divine and human action the qualities unite to create perfection. Loyalty, for example, is rooted in earth and grows upwards, while justice is at home in heaven but bends or leans down to create commitment. The strength, sanity and beauty of Israel’s tradition of social justice are evident in these verses.
I have translated the last line literally. Most translators are so anxious to avoid the idea of God following anyone’s way, they have performed acrobatics make it say something other. They have forgotten that “justice” is part of God, which in this instance God allows to take lead in his plan of action. God walks in the way of his own justice.